Taylor, Burton: Wilderness
Guest writer: Larry Burton
"Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure. When we fall ill, lose our jobs, wreck our marriages, or alienate our children, most of us are left alone to pick up the pieces. Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives. And yet if someone asked us to pinpoint the times in our lives that changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times."
~Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
After all these years, one would think that my skin would have gotten thicker. Lord knows I’ve been enough battles. But the sad fact is that I am just as prone to having my feelings hurt, to feeling ashamed, and to wanting to hide as anyone else. Often I was not actually responsible for what happened, but there were (and are) times when I contributed or even caused my own suffering. Given that people in my profession (priest and professor) are supposed to be models of spiritual maturity and self-control, you can imagine what a failure I have often felt myself to be. And it is just here, amid not-quite-despair, that I have found the fertile soil of spiritual growth.
Of course, this is not something that has happened all by itself. I most definitely have not pulled myself up by my spiritual bootstraps. It is all about grace. I am convinced that healing is always about relationship, and the love and acceptance of my family and closest friends has enlarged my vision and opened my heart. The patience of my spiritual director is unwavering.
Barbara Brown Taylor, the wise teacher, preacher, and writer, says, “Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives.” And yet it is exactly that ministering that offers light, that lifts the weight, that offers hope.
Spiritual growth is not something that happens in a vacuum. We can’t somehow make it on our own.
I am the designated leader of a group of spiritual friends who meet once a week. I say “designated” because we are all equal. I call us together and offer a blessing at the end. Other than that, we are all on a spiritual journey which we share with these whom we trust. Recently, I shared that I was working on the difference between vulnerability and powerlessness. I am coming to understand that when I feel powerless—like so many folks who have experienced major losses or betrayals—I become angry and resentful. I know some people who blame God in times like these and who drop out of the faith journey altogether. The revelation—and it can only be called that—is that when I choose to live consciously vulnerable, vulnerable because my trust in in God revealed in Jesus Christ, then that sense of powerlessness seems to evaporate, and the anger is gone. In sharing this with our group, trusted companions, something shifted, and it was like walking out of the wilderness and into a new openness.
We all have wilderness times. Perhaps it is through conscious vulnerability among trusted companions, that those times become not just bearable, but holy growth.